Tasting the “Bee Kind” Life

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I recently was lucky enough to be invited to a private local mead tasting at eat @ Cane Bay on a day the restaurant was closed for business.  Wanda Wright, owner of Wright Apiary and local mead artisan, asked myself, Katherine Pugliese (eat @ Cane Bay and the St. Croix Food & Wine Experience), and Roger Shepard (Premier Wine & Spirits) to sample her meads in preparation for her attendance at upcoming food and wine shows.

Wanda Wright

Meet Wanda Wright.  Local beekeeper, honey producer, mead artisan, owner of Wright Apiary, and all around amazing and wonderful person.  Wanda is an eternally youthful soul with a big smile and a heart to match.  She gives the best hugs!  And the flavors of her meads reflect the love that she puts into them.

Mead Varieties

For those of you who may not know what mead is, it is also known as “honey wine.”  It is fermented honey and water, and the flavor can range from sweet to dry, depending upon the age and the ingredients added to the mead.  Meads may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling, and they are served at all temperatures, from room temperature to chilled.

Wanda adds local fruits and spices to her meads, and she has six different varieties available – carambola, suriname cherry, mango, yellow plum, passion fruit, and guava.  It is important to note that these are not flavors – the mead carries only the lightest essence of flavor from each of these ingredients.  Rather, each added fruit juice to the original honey prior to being created into mead adds notes of distinction to the final product.  You can read the notes on the final tasting sheet for each variety.

Wright Apiary meads are recommended to be served at room temperature or slightly chilled, before or after dinner.  They make a delightful drink just for sipping while watching a beautiful St. Croix sunset as well.

Mead Tasting

Wanda gave us some interesting facts about mead, such as “mead has been enjoyed for centuries by nobles, notables, and ordinary people, but especially by lovers, honoring their union in a month long celebration, punctuated with drinking “honey wine,” giving rise to our modern day tradition of the honeymoon.”  Mead truly is a drink of love!

If you’d like to purchase and try Wright Apiary meads, the best way to find them is by contacting Wanda Wright directly.  She can be reached at (340) 277-6727, or (340) 718-2142.  Wright Apiary honey (not mead) is also sold at ARTfarm, which you can find on my map of St. Croix farmers markets and farm stands.

I hope you get a chance to taste these wonderful meads, as I was fortunate to do, and enjoy a bit of St. Croix love.  And as Wanda says – “Bee Kind!”  Thank you Wanda, for caring for your bees, for St. Croix, and for making these wonderful products for us.

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Ridge to Reef Farm: An Organic Oasis

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Here on St. Croix, we’re blessed to have Ridge to Reef Farm, a local, sustainable organic farm located in the West end rainforest. A few weeks ago, I visited for a Sunset Farm tour, as well as stayed to dine in one of their remarkable “Slow Down” dinners. Welcome to Ridge to Reef Farm

Ridge to Reef is more than just a farm.  It’s a movement, in its own way.  It represents the growing body of people who seek to not only eat in a “Farm to Table” manner that is healthier and closer to nature, but who also seek to leave the world a better place than how they found it.

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Nate Olive is the Director at the farm, and wears a lot of hats, from Event Coordinator to Marketing to simply being host and tour guide.  Here he is getting ready to blow the conch shell to round-up the group for our evening’s tour.

Seed starts under shade

Walking around the farm gives an inside look into the entire food production process.  From the seeds started in trays under shadecloth…

Rows of organic produce

To the rows of produce in various states of production…

Nate Olive discussing moringa

To the extent of just how much acreage they currently have under sustainable growth.  In this photo Nate discusses the moringa trees that are growing behind him in a terraced arrangement with tomato plants and banana trees, which provides shade and moisture for the tomatoes while preserving soil from erosion.  And this year, Ridge to Reef has produced some beautiful tomatoes!

Slow Down Dinner

But the biggest treat of the evening is returning to the Main House and sitting down for the Slow Down Dinner cooked by the evening’s guest chef.  These dinners are usually 5 – 6 course affairs, with each course featuring a different seasonal produce item, as well as meats raised on the farm.  Slow Down dinners typically happen every 4 – 6 weeks, and the next one is actually tomorrow night, April 15!  You can always find information about these special events on the Ridge to Reef Farm Facebook page.

And there’s much more going available to those who are interested in experiencing the oasis in the rainforest that is Ridge to Reef Farm.  If you’d like more information about Farm Tours, the Market, or Accommodations, check out the Ridge to Reef Farm Website.  And then visit.  Sit.  Talk.  Laugh.  And eat.  And become part of a movement that is celebrating the history and vibrancy of agriculture on St. Croix.  Thanks Nate, and everyone at Ridge to Reef, for all you do!

Grilled Veggie Tacos with Butter Lettuce

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So there’s a delicious pile of fresh veggies sitting in the kitchen, and now the fun begins!  But before the cooking begins though, a few thoughts.

As I talk with others about buying and preparing local foods, another statement I frequently hear is, “I see all these great vegetables, but I don’t know what to do with them.”  Or, “I don’t have a recipe for them.”  I understand both those statements.  But the key to buying and preparing local is to be inspired by the food, and not the other way around!  We’ve been taught as cooks to go through three steps:  1) Find a recipe; 2) Go buy ingredients, and; 3) Prepare.   This is actually a very wasteful way to cook!  Invariably, when buying ingredients, too much of one ingredient is purchased (due to packaging) and some is thrown out – or, left to languish and rot in the refrigerator because there isn’t another recipe handy to cook with it.

When cooking locally though, the food is the inspiration!  Every week when I do my shopping trip(s), I have no idea what I’m going to prepare that week…that’s actually part of the fun.  I head out and I buy what looks freshest and tastiest, bring it home, and then I start to think about what I’m going to prepare.  Cooking this way means that I will use all of my ingredients and that I will be preparing food that’s as fresh as possible – and therefore, healthy as possible!  Oh, and delicious too, yep yep yep.  Doug and I eat very well, simple foods and simple meals that are filled with flavor, because we are eating foods that haven’t been sitting on a shelf or in a cooler for weeks and weeks.

Also, local cooking does not need to be complicated!  Really, everyday meals do not need to be elaborate cooking events that take several hours to prepare.  When I’m cooking for just Doug and myself, most of the time it’s a pretty simple dish, or a combination of a few simple dishes.  Doug eats vegan most of the time, so often much of what I prepare is vegetable dishes, which can be simple or elaborate depending upon my mood.  I often will choose a recipe based upon ingredients I have in the kitchen to prepare, but I freely exchange ingredients depending upon what I have.  So feel free, experiment, taste, cook, and enjoy!

And now for the first meal from yesterday’s shopping trip.

Doug bought me a grill for Christmas, which I’ve been dying to have!  I chose a charcoal grill, a Weber, which I’ve owned previously in the past and really enjoy.  So last night I wanted to fire it up and try it out with something simple.  I decided to grill some of the veggies and make vegan tacos for Doug, since he’s been craving some simple meals.

I started by choosing the veggies that I knew would grill best.  I pulled out some of the eggplants, the green bell peppers, and some non-local organic onions that I bought at Quality Food.  I did notice yesterday on my shopping trip that ARTfarm now has local onions in season, so I’ll be buying those next week!

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Washed, chopped, and in the grill basket (I LOVE this grill basket!)

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Getting the fire ready…wait, how did that get in the pic?  *grins*

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Next some seasoning.  I use Penzey’s spices almost exclusively for my cooking spices.  This blend of Szechuan pepper and sea salt is very tasty on vegetables – slightly spicy, and it has a warm earthy flavor.

IMG_2262Basket on the grill…wait…toss…drink more wine…

IMG_2268And then we’re done!  I had some tortillas left from the batch I made on Friday, so it served as the shell of the taco.  I lined it with some of the butter lettuce leaves, and filled with the roasted veggies…and topped off with Miss Anna’s hot sauce (made on St. Croix)!

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And…eat!  Doug said it was quite tasty.

One simple meal down, more on the way.  I’m getting ready to start preparing lunch, stay tuned!  😀